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politics

Province Announces $15 Billion in Transit Funding

But Kathleen Wynne's big funding announcement on Monday was years too late and billions of dollars short.

When Kathleen Wynne became premier over a year ago, she offered Toronto’s urbanists and transit supporters hope that the GTHA’s transit funding problems would finally get the serious attention they deserved. The McGuinty-led Liberals had always said the right things, but when it came time to paying for transit, whether it be in the form of Transit City or Metrolinx’s Big Move, they showed an uncanny knack for retreating on their policies and cutting back or deferring the plans their experts claimed were best.

It was hoped that Wynne, who has been the minister for both municipal affairs and transportation, would break this cycle, and Monday’s transit announcement at a Toronto Region Board of Trade lunch was seen as the last best chance for her do so. After all, it’s increasingly likely she’ll face an election in the coming months, and both the Conservatives and NDP have taken populist stances on transit investment—that is, they support the notion of investing in transit, but don’t favour the new transit revenue tools most experts agree are necessary. This may be good politics in the have-your-cake-and-eat-it too sort of way, but it leaves an important policy deficit: $30 billion is needed to fund the Big Move, and, based on growth projections, the Big Move would mostly involve maintaining our current level of congestion and preventing it from getting worse.

Wynne announced $29 billion in transit and transportation funding Monday, but the devil was in the details: $15 billion was pledged to GTHA transit over the next 10 years—a substantial amount, to be sure, but still not the $30 billion the region needs. (The other $14 billion will go to items like road infrastructure.)

It seems about half of the $29 billion will come from a greater allocation of gas tax and HST revenue to transit, although Wynne has ruled out an increase to the gas tax. As this is not new money, the plan raises the question of which currently funded item will see its support reduced if or when the money is redirected.

The remaining sources of funding—which Wynne said would involve dedicated revenue tools—will be identified in the provincial budget. However, it’s likely these revenue tools will be ones with which we’re already familiar—the issuance of bonds and the redirection of existing revenue, for example—as the premier has already ruled out most other funding options.

So while Monday’s announcement should have been great news—yay, $15 billion in transit funding!—it felt more like old news. It is, by the government’s own standards of a few years ago, years too late and billions of dollars short. The announcement of which cuts will fund the bulk of the transit funding has been deferred—a move familiar to people who follow such transit announcements. The solutions were not original either. After years of study and an insistence that fundamentally new tools were needed to make the transit plan work, it seems the government has decided issuing bonds might not be such a bad thing after all.

If the government doesn’t fall as a result of this budget—which it stands a good chance of doing—we might be a bit closer to seeing some money soon. But in many ways, it feels like Toronto’s quixotic quest for transit funding has just taken us right back to where we began.

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